Daniel and I concluded recently that easy listening is the future. I’m an old man now, I can’t really be bothered working for my entertainment. These days, I want things I can comprehend without having to stress my poor, bedraggled neurons; not dense, multi-layered epic works of sonic philosophy for boring people. So it’s good that I’ve got The Kings of Frog Island here, the entertainment equivalent of comfy bootee slippers.
The Kings of Frog Island are a ‘stoner rock collective’ from Leicester, which apparently gives rise to their name. It would be tempting here to start making jokes at the expense of Leicester, but because I’m not a lazy, piss-marbled hack, I’m not going to do that. Instead I’m going to point out that, rather than unemployment and dead industry, what arises from the East Midlands in this case is a wonderful line in gentle, hazy, atmospheric desert rock. It evokes a parched wasteland just the way you’d expect, but it’s had all the spiky plants and venomous scorpions removed. (‘Not-like-Leicester-at-all-then’ joke goes here.)
Not that the album isn’t a bit dark, in its way, mind you. First track In Memoriam is sparse arrangement of stretched, gangly guitar notes and buzzing marching band drums. Then someone reads out a list of people he’s about to hang. But it’s delivered with an identifiable bit of British tongue in Imperial cheek, so what I said still counts. I know what I’m doing here, after all.
The best way I can think of to describe this record is as follows. What if Queens of the Stone Age hadn’t gone fucking terrible? Don’t gripe, you know it’s true. Mat Bethancourt sounds so much like Josh Homme at times, it’s sort of creepy. And to my woollen ears, the guitar tone isn’t a million miles from that trademark QOTSA sound either. What’s different is that this lacks the ragged, shattered edge of Rated R, as it does the supergroup-done-right mysteries of Songs for the Deaf. If Homme had mellowed at that point, instead of blanded; and if he hadn’t cut his own bollocks off, before stuffing them into Nick Oliveri’s mouth and hoofing him out the band, QOTSA might sound a bit like this.
There also seems to be a big slice of spaghetti western in this mix as well. A good clutch of the tunes here will evoke images of grunting nineteenth-century men in second-hand hats, sitting on horses and having a smoke, with Ennio Morricone coming out their stupid white earbuds. Dark on You is absolutely rammed with exactly the sort of inhospitable, moribund aesthetic you’d expect from that association. It’s a lovely, stately 6/8 waltz full of chiming guitar notes, soft piano and ringing cymbal bells. Also it has a solo that sounds well Pink Floyd.
The Keeper Of… echoes this same sense of inconquerable wilderness but with none of the gentleness. There’s galloping battle drums and bass thrumming with urgency. There’s Bethancourt throttling his guitar through a ragged lead like he’s milking his serpent. There’s this tambourine rattle going throughout, then this strange, haunting choir of mans appears, and by the time it’s done building, it sounds like a stoner re-interpretation of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly theme.
Glebe Street Whores, Bride of Suicide, and I Ain’t Sorry are a little more basic in their approach to the stoner template. They complement the cowboyish stuff brilliantly, but at first blush, these songs are really not the record’s most striking feature. That’s down to the mellow atmospherics more than anything, though; they trickle into your ear like warm pus, and you barely even notice them taking root. Then two days later, you’re humming the chorus from out of nowhere.
This is where another Leicester-is-a-shithole-ha-ha joke would go, if I was a cunt. I’m not a cunt, I’m right. Get this record.